can tweet me @amoratv. see you next time. hello, everybody, and welcome to al jazeera america. i'm david. for the last 15 years the u.s. has had a policy of isolation towards cuba, today the president will announce a major change. and talk about the release of alan gross who has been held prisoner in cuba for the past five years. let's start with mike viqueira. >> this is extraordinary even
incredible. the united states trying to reopen the embassy. we are learning about these discussions that have taken place over the last year, and a key player in this, the vatican and pope francis. allen has arrived just outside of washington. the white house very careful to point out that this is not any kind of intelligence assets swap. they continue to deny that alan gross was there as a u.s. intelligence agent. he was arrested some five years ago on charges of espionage, and he has languished. his health has deteriorated.
and here we have the president arriving, david. >> let's listen. >> the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years. we will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed, and we will begin to normalize the relationship between our two countries. we'll begin a new chapter among the nations of the americas. there is a complicated history between the united states and cuba. i was born in 1961, just over two years after fidel castro took power. over the next several decades the relationships between our countries, played out against the backdrop of the cold war. we are separated by just over 90 miles. but year after year, an
idealogical and economic barrier hardened between our two countries. meanwhile, the cuban exile community in the united states made enormous contributions to our country. in politics, business, culture and sports. like imma grants before, cubans helped remake america, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind. this boukd america and cuba in a unique relationship. proudly, the united states has supported democracy and human rights in cuban through these five decades. we have done so primarily through policies that aimed to's laid the island. preventing the most basic travel and commerce that americans can enjoy anyplace else, and no other nation joins us in
imposing these sanctions and it has had little effect. today cuba is still governed by the castros and the communi communist -- party that came to power nearly a half a century before. consider that for more than 35 years, we have had relations with china, a far larger country also governed by a communist party. nearly two decades ago we reestablishedry lay swhuns vietnam where we fought a war that claimed more americans than any cold war confrontation. that's why when i came into office, i promised to rexham min our cuba policy. we lifted restrictions for cuban americans to travel. these changes now seem obvious. cuban americans have been
reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values, and through these exchanges a younger generation of cuban americans has increasingly questioned an approach that does more to keep cuba closed off from an interconnected world. i have been prepared to take additional steps for sometime, a major obstacle stood in our way. the wrongful imprisonment of alan gross for five years. over many months my administration has held discussions with the cuban government about alan's case and other aspects of our relationship. pope francis issued a personal appeal to me and cuba's president urging us to resolve alan's case, and three cuban agents who have been held in the united states for years.
today alan returned home. he was released by think cuban government on humanitarian grounds. separately, in exchange for the three cuban agents, cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the united states has ever had in cuba, and who has been in prison for nearly two decades. this man who's sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided america, with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of cuban agents that included the men transferred to cuba today. as well as other spies in the united states. this man is now safely on our shores. having recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country, i'm now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy. first i have instructed secretary kerry to begin discussions with cuba to
reestablish relations. going forward the united states will reestablish an embassy in havana. and high-ranking officials will visit cuba. where we can advance shared interests, we will on issues like health, migration, counter terrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response. indeed we have seen the benefits of cooperation between our countries before. it was a cuban, carlos finley, who discovered that most quitos carry yellow fever. cuba has sent hundreds of healthcare workers to africa to fight ebola, and i believe american and cuban healthcare workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this disease. where we disagree, we will raise those issues directly, as we will continue to do on issues of democracy and human rights in cuba. but believe we can do more to support the cuban people and
support our values through engagements, after all these 50 years have is shown that isolation has not worked. it's time for a new approach. second, i have instructed secretary kerry to review cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. this review will be guided by the facts and the law. terrorism has changed in the last several decades. at a time when we are focused on threats from al-qaeda to isil, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism, should not face this sanction. third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from cuba. this is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people to people engagement. with the changes i'm announcing today it will be easier for americans to travel to cuba, and americans will be able to use american credit and debit cards
on the island. nobody represents american's values better than the american people, and i believe this contact will do more to empower the cuban people. i alls believe more resources should be able to reach the cuban people, so we're significantly increasing the ooment of manny that can be sent and removing limits. i believe that american businesses should not be put at a disadvantage. and that increased commerce is good for americans and for cubans. so we will facilitate authorized transactions between the united states and cuba. u.s. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at cuban financial institutions, and it will be easier for u.s. exporters to sell goods in cuba. i believe in the -- the free flow of information. unfortunately our sanctions on cuba have denied cubans access to technology that has empowered
have its around the globe, so i have authorized increased telecommunications connections between the united states and cuba. businesses will be able to sell goods. these are the steps that i can take as president to change this policy. the embargo that has been imposed for dedicated is now codified in legislation. as these changes unfold, i look forward to engaging congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo. yesterday i spoke with raul castro. i made clear my strong belief that cuban society is constrained by restrictions on its citizens. in addition to the return of alan gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome the decision to release a substantial number of
prisoner. we welcome cuba's decision to offer more access to the internet for its citizens and increase engagement with international groups that promote universal values. but i'm under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remains. the united states believes no cuban should face arrest or beatings because they are exercising the universal right to have their voices heard. while cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that cuban workers should be free to form unions just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process. moreover given cuba's history, i expect it will continue to pursue foreign policies that will at times be sharply at odds with the american interests.
i do not expect the changes to bring about transformation of cuban society overnight. but i am convinced through a policy of engagement we can moefshthtively stand -- up for themselves. to those who oppose these steps, i respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy. the question is how we uphold that commitment. i do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for overfive decades and expect a different result. moreover it does not serve america's interests, or the cuban people, to try to push cuban towards collapse. even if that worked, and it hasn't for 50 years, we no from harm earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos. we are calling on cuba to
unleash the potential of 11 million cubans. in that spirit, we should not allow u.s. sanctions to add to the burden of cuban citizens that we seek to help. to the cuban people, america extends a hand of friendship. some of you have looked to us as a source of hope. others have seen us as a former colonizer, intent on controlling your future. jose mrate once said liberty is the right of every man to be honest. today i'm being honest with you. we can never erase the history between us, but we believe you should be empowered to live with dignity and self determination. cubans have a saying about daily life. it's not easy. today the united states wants to be a partner in making the lives of ored neir cubans a little bit
easier, more free, more pos perrous. to those who have supported these measures, i thank you for being partners in our efforts. in particular i want to thank his holiness pope francis. the government of canada, which hosted our discussions with the cuban government, and a bipartisan group of congressmen who have worked tirelessly for alan gross's release and a new approach for advancing our interests and values in cuba. finally our shift in policy comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the americas. this april we are prepared to have cuba join the other nations of the help if is fear at the summit of the americas. but we will insist that civil society join us. and i call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the
commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the inner american charter. let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tierney of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections. a future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together. not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens. my fellow americans the city of havana is very near. countless cubans have come here. today miami is often referred to as the capitol of latin america. but it is also a profoundly
american city, a place that reminds us ideals mean more than the color of our skin. a demonstration of what the cuban people can achieve, and the openness of our united states to our family to the south. change is hard. in our own lives and in the lives of nations. and change is even harder when we carry the heavyweight of history on our shoulders. but today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. today america chooses to cut lose the shackles of the past, and reach for a better future, for the cuban people, for the american people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world. thank you. god bless you. >> president obama at the white house anoungsing a change in 53 years of u.s. policy towards cuba. the president said we will end
an outdated approach. he said the united states will establish an embassy in havana, and there will be increased travel and commerce, americans will be able to travel to cuba more easily. at the same time the president was speaking, and again, he also outlined the release of alan gross in cuba, and the swap for some cuban spies who had been arrested in miami. and raul castro was speaking to his nation. we'll bring you that in a moment. but i want to bridge in antonio mora. you were born in havana, your family has deep connections. your reaction? >> it has determined by life. i was born a few years before castro came to power, and my family left a few years later.
certainly very important to me and the millions of cubans who's decentants now live in this country. it has been 54 years, and it is a tremendous change. the question now will be is how far is the cuban government willing to go? because there have been other moments in history where the u.s. has tried to negotiate and tried to open, sort of reduce at least or limit the embargo and the cubans have many times been the ones who have torpedoed it. raul castro's words did sound a little bit conciliatory. but we'll have to see. >> i wonder if there is a way to
put this in historical significance, the closest we ever came to a war with russia was over the nuclear weapons in cuba. >> right. >> this is perhaps more significant that a lot of americans realize. >> and it could be tremendously significant for the cuban people. the economy is one thing we have not heard much mentioned this morning, which may be one of the reasons the cubans have decided to move forward with all of this, and been maybe more receptive to negotiating, because the cuban economy for many years was kept afloat by the soviet union, now it has been kept afloat by the venezuelans. because they have given them a lot of cheap oil, and that may be going away because of the drop in oil prices. so the cubans may be feeling squeezed. >> one of the things the
president outlined was the materials of the deal, and alan gross was released. he was the american subcontractor who was doing work in havana. and he was allegedly trying to help get better access to the internet. and the spy who had been held for decades, he has also been released. let's go to jamie macintyre in washington. and there are allegations this is another repeat of the bo bird dahl -- berg doll being released. i wonder if you can give us more details about the terms of the deal. >> that's why these things are carefully negotiated over time. this has been in the works now for over a year and a half.
and the final details were finalized in a meeting at the vatican hosted by pope francis. the pope instrumental in this, both in writing letters to the united states and cuba, and also helping to put the final stamp on this deal. so that's why it's very carefully worded that the united states would not agree to trade a spy for alan gross who they insisted was not spying, and they insisted on language where cuba would say it released him for humanitarian reasons. they did concede a u.s. spy who had been held in prison in cuba for almost 20 years, this very valuable intelligence asset who is unnamed and now back in the united states, that was a spy for spy swap. and of course trading spies is something that has gone back in history for a long time. it's something that has been done in the past, so it's not
unprecedented or seen as violating the u.s. policy about negotiations. it's like prisoner exchanges. so that exchange in the alan gross case is sort of the beginning and also the end of the story, because it was that obstacle that kept the negotiations from getting on to these biggerer issues, and now with that disposed of and out of the way, these negotiations hosted in canada, that didn't involve the presidents until the very, very end of the process, has allowed the united states, the obama administration to make really -- i mean it really is an historic overture here to normalize relations with cuba. and there's not many times in washington you can say something is truly historic, but this is a big change. two things, one they are not lifting the embargo, because that's something that congress has to do. that's embodied in law.
they are also not automatically removing cuba from the state-sponsored terrorist list, because that's all codified in law. and although they reduced a lot of travel restrictions and opened up a lot of categories, tourist travel is still not going to be permitted because again that's part of the law. today the administration is focusing on the actions it says it can take, and it will open a dialogue with congress down the road. the diplomacy is clearly in the administration's -- the executive part of the administration's per view, so they are going to be able to move towards opening an embassy, and restoring full diplomatic relations. >> jamie mcentire in washington, and gen, the president addressed some of the criticism he expects to receive. there has been criticism already.
we are expecting senator marco rubio to have a fews conference, and he has been outspoken of the obama administration loosening trade ties with cuba. but, again, we're going to bring you the president of cuba, his speech at the same time. what standings out to you, and what should we be looking for. and you were just in cuba a few years ago. expand on how significant this will be for the cuban people. >> sure. raul castro has been known as a bit of a reformer. he talked about proposing neutral measures, finding possible solutions that could be at the summit of the americas, so there does seem like there is some dialogue here. he mentioned he spoke with president obama yesterday. this is a president who came into power and we saw a release of political pilsners under his watch, the liberallization of
trade measures within the country, dealings with u.s. farmers. but this is a country that is also very much hamstringed by the embargo. so there is a lot that -- that can be done from the white house. this has indeed historic, however, it only goes so far in terms of its change of how the u.s. and cuba interact. >> let's now listen to the president of cuba with english translation, and again, he made his remarks at the same time president obama was speaking to the nation here. >> -- an individual of cuban origin who acted at the service of that nation. addition additionally we also returned to his country, citizen of the united states alan gross.
unilaterally, which is our practice in strict adherence to our law, he has received bene t benefits, including release of individuals which the government of the united states had expressed interest in being released. likewise, we have agreed to restore diplomatic relations. this does not mean. that the major things have been resolved. the economic embargo -- commercial and economic and financial embargo which causes huge human and
economic damage to our country, must cease. though the measures of the embargo have become law, the president of the united states, can change the enforcement thereof under his executive branch powers. we propose to the united states government to take mutual measures for the improvement of our bilateral climate, and move forward towards normalization of ties between our countries. based on the principles of international law, and the u.n. charter. cuba reiterates it's willingness
to engage in cooperating with multi-lateral organizations such as the united nations. in recognizing that we have deep differences mainly with regard to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights, and political -- and foreign policy. i reaffirm though, our willingness to engage in dialogue and talks on all of these topics. i urge the united states government to remove obstacles standing in the way, or restricting the ties between our peoples. the families and citizens of both countries, particularly
with regard to travel, direct mail, and telecom municaton s. talks show it is possible to find solutions to many problems, as we have repeated -- time and time again, we have learned the art of living in peaceful coexistence in a civilized way with our differences of opinion. it is -- with regard to these important topics, we will talk later on. thank you very much. >> and that is raul castro speaking. he said this decision by president obama to normalize
relations deserves respect and recognition by our country. and goes on to thank the vatican and the pope for helping in all of this. he said this does not mean things have been resolved. antonio mora joins us. what is your reaction. >> he really has gone further than any cuban leader has in more than five decades, in saying we have agreed to restore relations. it's a huge step. >> let's listen to marco rubio, and we'll come back. >> -- become free and open and democratic, and that's why this announcement from the white house is so profoundly disappointing. it is a victory for the oppressive cuban government, but a serious setback for the repressed cuban people. the white house has conceded everything, and gained little. they gaine n